A post-woke world is possible

Common sense has finally prevailed in the trans debate. But there’s still so much more to do.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Identity Politics UK

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The end of wokery has been foretold so many times that it’s easy to sigh wearily when one hears it proclaimed. But could it actually be happening this time?

At the weekend, the Sunday Telegraph’s leading article declared triumphantly: ‘The tide is finally against woke radicals.’ It saluted the efforts by UK equalities minister Kemi Badenoch in giving schools clearer guidance in resisting the demands of radical trans activists. Parents are finally being put at the centre of decisions concerning their children. It noted, too, how ministers have accepted the recommendations of the Cass Review and that puberty blockers are no longer routinely prescribed by the NHS.

The Sunday Telegraph also pointed to the fact that the government is launching a consultation on updating the NHS constitution for England. This could lead to patients being treated in single-sex hospital wards based on biological sex, as well as a ban on terms such as ‘​​chestfeeding’. The editorial concluded: ‘The gender extremists are clearly in retreat, and their dogmas are finally being exposed to proper evidence-based scrutiny. Politicians have begun to recant their previously unthinking support for policies that were causing active harm.’

Elsewhere last week, under the headline ‘Turn of the woke tide will leave many stranded’, Kathleen Stock wrote in The Times how a ‘friend of mine who teaches in a famous North American liberal-arts college, full of achingly cool rich kids, tells me here undergrads are “so over” pronoun rounds, eye-rolling whenever staff try to introduce them in the classroom’. Stock adds enthusiastically that the ‘once-ubiquitous hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, has fallen out of favour… football players taking the knee are an increasingly rare sight. Organisations such as Sports England and the Arts Council are quietly exiting Stonewall’s Diversity scheme.’

Indeed, Stonewall’s precipitous fall from favour has been perceived as a symptom of a wider shift in mood on trans ideology. The Cass Review has also been seen as a watershed moment, signifying a revolt against wokery that’s been simmering for some time.

The idea that wokery is moribund may well be a case of wishful thinking. But whether it’s in retreat or in repose, there are lessons to be learnt from recent years. There also remain symptoms to look out for. In this spirit, here are 10 modest proposals for a post-woke world, or at least guidelines for moving towards one.

  • It must be empiricism, not ideology or fantasy, that prevails. We must base public policy on observable reality, on what is true, rather than what people wish were true.
  • We must beware virulent fashions, which can spread and mutate through social contagion into communal derangement. Strange ideas can spread by suggestion, peer pressure and the desire to belong.
  • In that same spirit of resisting peer pressure, it doesn’t matter if something is offensive, uncomfortable or politically inconvenient. Deal with it. What matters is that it’s true.
  • Nor should the calendar decide how we think. Beware the tyranny of ‘progress’. The past wasn’t always in error, no more than we are in full rectitude today. No one can be on the ‘right side of history’. History has no direction or morality.
  • Similarly, the past was not your fault. Your ancestors may have been racist or slave-holders, but you are not to blame. Don’t apologise for what you haven’t done.
  • Beware, too, the self-proclaimed victims. Victimhood doesn’t confer special powers of reason or perception. Victims can often be the most intolerant, belligerent and thuggish, despite their sanctified status.
  • In fact, no category or unit of people deserves special veneration. None warrants special vilification. People are foremost and utmost individuals.
  • This is also why we must beware groupthink. Just because the righteous mob believes something is true, that doesn’t make it true. It’s often unthinking, collective dogma.
  • Most of all, think for yourselves.
  • And dare to speak up.

The New Atheists missed the real threat to reason

Philosopher Daniel Dennett, one of the ‘four horsemen’ of the New Atheism movement of the 2000s, died last week aged 82. Reading his obituaries, I couldn’t help feeling that New Atheism now seems rather dated, almost ancient history.

New Atheism was an obvious reaction to the atrocity of 9/11 and the resurgence of Islamic extremism that the attack embodied. But the rage of the rational against the religious is nothing new. In any case, religious extremism no longer feels the global menace that it genuinely felt 20 years ago. The incipient, truly profound threat to reason in recent decades has come from postmodern, cultural relativists, who hold and propagate their subversive beliefs with ardour and menace.

Of the other ‘four horsemen’ of New Atheism, only Sam Harris continues his crusade against religion. Christopher Hitchens is no longer with us. As for Richard Dawkins, the movement’s most famous luminary, he has tempered down his anti-religious crusade. He now rightly recognises that relativism and subjective wishful thinking are the more insidious threats to reason these days. These have been a significant motor behind wokery.

Last year, Dawkins waded into controversy in New Zealand, arguing against the notion that Maori myth should be given equal worth in science classes. Earlier this week, he tweeted about a comparable myth that ‘transwomen are women’. Two decades on, the forces of unreason have assumed a different form.

The intolerance of trigger warnings

Trigger warnings at the beginning of books, television programmes or films aired on TV have the ostensible purpose of informing the ignorant that people in the past had different views – especially on matters regarding race, sex and gender.

These warnings have been part of our cultural furniture for a good number of years, but many will have noticed their usage increase and extend recently. Few comedies or films broadcast on television after 9pm are aired without them, although they are gradually making their way into the daytime schedule, too.

This was made clear to me a couple of weekends ago, during a Film4 daytime showing of the 1978 movie, Grease. It featured a preamble about the movie featuring offensive dialogue reflecting the attitudes of its time. I then heard last week that ITV has slapped a trigger warning on an old episode of Terry and June. The episode, in which Terry is terrified of being thought of as gay, now comes with the caution that it contains ‘discriminatory language’. (More appropriately, all episodes of Terry and June really should come with the warning that ‘What you are about to see is criminally unfunny’.)

The growth of trigger warnings might suggest that we in 2024 are ever more caring and tolerant folk. Yet, in truth, their scolding, dismissive tone suggests the opposite: that our shrill, highly judgemental, censorious, cancel-happy culture has become so utterly intolerant that it can’t bear to engage with the past.

Patrick West is a spiked columnist. His latest book, Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche For Our Times, is published by Societas.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Identity Politics UK


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